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MSU Presents Henrik Ibsen’s Controversial “Ghosts” In Wilson Black Box Theatre

Murray State presents "Ghosts" from October 21st to 23rd in Wilson Hall's black box theatre.
Murray State presents "Ghosts" from October 21st to 23rd in Wilson Hall's black box theatre.

The Murray State Department of Global Languages and Theatre Arts presents Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts this weekend in Wilson Hall's Black Box Theatre. Austin Carter speaks to MSU professor of acting and voice/stage dialects Daryl Phillipy ahead of the performances.

"Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright. He lived from 1828 to 1906," Phillipy begins. "He really came into his own as a playwright in the 1870s. He's considered the father of modern theatre because, in a lot of ways, his early plays—Dollhouse, Ghosts, another play called Enemy of the People, Hedda Gabler—really set the tone to create a new style of theatre in the 1870s, 1880s called realism. There was no such thing as realism in theatre up until this point."

"He started to take on the social issues of his time. It was a very conservative, Victorian era, and he was quite a progressive thinker. He wanted to address a lot of what he saw as injustices and inequalities within his own society, and for that, he was castigated. He was looked down upon. In fact, Ghosts, he couldn't get it produced in Norway. He had to come all the way to Chicago here in the US, where he produced it in the Danish language. It received the most scathing reviews because of the subject matter, but now, it is considered one of the masterworks of Henrik Ibsen."

"The play itself deals with a woman named Helen Alving who is caught up in her times. She's a woman with few rights and few resources outside of marriage, and she's duty-bound to stay in what was a terrible marriage. Her husband was cruel, lecherous, an alcoholic; he was not a very good husband, nor was he a good father."

"As the play starts, it's ten years since his death," Phillipy continues. "[Helen] has built an orphanage to remember her late husband because he was the pillar of the community, according to everyone else. She was trying to maintain his reputation, yet these are the ghosts that haunt her."

Phillipy says that the play's ghosts are cognitive more than figurative. "The title itself refers to our parentage, how we are raised, the ghosts of dead thinking or close-minded thinking or immoral thinking. She, throughout the course of the play, is revealing these ghosts that have impacted her but have also deeply impacted her own son, Oswald, who she sent away as a small child because she did not want to raise her child in a home with the type of man that his father was. He's come home for the opening of the orphanage in his father's name, but he's also inherited a terrible legacy that he reveals to the mother. It's a play with a social conscience, and it also reveals a lot of dark, deep secrets from the past."

Phillipy also cites similarities between Ibsen's play and today's society. Ghosts deals with "rights of women and having women lose their rights, and I think we're seeing that right now in the public discourse. The play deals with venereal disease—syphilis is the number one social disease in the world right now. It's making a comeback. He also takes on issues of alcoholism, adultery, fanatic religious beliefs, and the hypocrisy of people in power. I think we're seeing all of those as relevant issues in today's society."

Tickets can be accessed through the Murray State ticketing website. General admission is $10, but MSU students get in for free with their student ID.

Murray State University Theatre Department presents Ghosts on Thursday, October 20th, Friday, October 21st, and Saturday, October 22nd, at 7:30 pm and Sunday, October 23rd, at 2:30 pm. Performances take place on the third floor of Wilson Hall, 310B, in the black box studio theatre.

Austin Carter is a Murray State grad and has been involved with WKMS since he was in high school. Over the years he has been a producer for WKMS and has hosted several music shows, but now calls Morning Edition his home each weekday morning.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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